Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Birmingham Blues

There’s nothing I like less than reading an OFSTED report. The latest one that condemned Birmingham’s child protection services as "inadequate", following an inspection in June 2010, is no exception.

I don’t think that anyone would argue that it’s all sweetness and light in Birmingham. The local safeguarding children board is reported to be dealing with 20 Serious Case Reviews and a report commissioned by the city council last year identified important weaknesses.

But, not for the first time, I take issue with the pomposity of OFSTED. This report fails to give any clear picture of what is wrong in Birmingham, and its use of jargon and high-sounding but empty phrases, and the formulaic nature of its recommendations, makes me cringe.

The report speaks of “critical practice short-comings” (paragraph 14) but doesn’t tell us what these are. And apparently “quality assurance systems” fail to identify “major weaknesses” in casework. But what these are remains a mystery.

Then there is the familiar refrain that supervision fails to challenge “poor working practices”. Again no clue as to what these are and that smug assumption that people can only work well if they are confronted with their failings.

Not surprisingly the suggestions for improvement continue in the same one-dimensional bureaucratic vein. Apparently Birmingham must immediately “ensure that there is a detailed understanding of the deficits in current practice”; just like that! And it must immediately “take steps to comply in full with statutory requirements for safe staffing”. I wonder if people in Birmingham know what these recommendations mean. I don’t. It’s pretty hard to do something immediately if you don’t know what it is.

Then there’s the familiar old chestnut: “Ensure that all management decisions taken in relation to individual cases are immediately recorded on the child’s records.” Well at least that’s clear and tidies up the paperwork.

OFSTED seems not only to lack knowledge of child protection but also of management. If child protection services in Birmingham are ‘inadequate’ then I expect the reasons are quite complex. Resources, staffing problems, problems of staff morale and motivation, management style, organisational learning, process design and bureaucracy are all areas I would want to explore. And those are the sorts of areas which management needs to address to begin to make improvements. But all OFSTED seems to be offering Birmingham is blanket judgements and those horribly smug recommendations.